If you have a loved one with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may find yourself becoming a caregiver. Providing care for someone with COPD is a challenging but rewarding job. Caregivers provide the care necessary to help a person with COPD, but they need to take care of themselves as well.
Progression of the role as a caregiver
As COPD progresses, the role of a caregiver will change. In the beginning, you may not have as many responsibilities. Both the person with COPD and the caregiver will have to get familiar with their new roles. There may be awkward or difficult times until you are both used to it. This is also a good time as a caregiver to learn about COPD. Knowing more about the disease will help give a sense of control and make you a better caregiver.1
Caregiving needs in later stages of COPD may be more demanding. Your loved one may need more help from you, and there may need to be several caregivers to share different responsibilities. In late-stage COPD, more care may be necessary, and a trained home healthcare professional might be needed at times to assist with care. This is also the time you and your loved one may consider hospice care.1
Helping manage COPD as a caregiver
As a caregiver, you can have a key role in helping manage your loved one’s COPD. You may be in the best position to track how their symptoms change over time. This can be key information when tracking disease progression and predicting flare-ups.1
Other things you can do as a caregiver to help your loved one include:1,2
- Learning how to use medical devices like supplemental oxygen
- Learning about breathing exercises designed to help people with COPD
- Getting your flu and pneumonia vaccines to protect your loved one
Some people may find themselves in the position of being a long-distance caregiver if they do not live near their loved one with COPD. While it may seem daunting, there are things caregivers can do for the success of long-distance caregiving, such as:3
- Know everything you can about the person’s illness, drugs, and resources. Knowing this will help you with planning and understanding care, talking to doctors, and assisting in managing care.
- Plan visits ahead of time. Plan out errands, appointments or treatments, caregiving responsibilities, and more. This will help organize visits and make sure everything gets done.
- Stay in regular touch with the person’s care team.
- Do not forget about your loved one. Make time to just enjoy each other's company or do something fun with them.
Caregiving is not easy, and long-distance caregiving brings its own set of challenges. It may be worth looking into a local caregiver. Someone local can help with caregiving basics that cannot be done long-distance.
Caring for the caregiver
Caregiving is a stressful job. Caregivers need to take care of themselves to help reduce the risk of burnout, depression, anger, or health problems. Caregivers cannot care for others if they themselves are not well. Signs that caregivers may be under stress include:2,4
- Becoming angry and irritable
- Social withdrawal
- Depression or anxiety
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Exhaustion that interferes with everyday activities or tasks
- Problems sleeping
- New health problems
If these symptoms happen often, a caregiver might be under significant stress. Managing stress in a healthy way is helpful. Caregivers and the person with COPD feel supported and the relationship does not suffer. Ways to manage stress include:2,4
- Finding community resources to assist with caregiving, like visiting nurses, in-home nurses, or respite care
- Support groups for caregivers, either in-person or online
- Talking with a therapist, counselor, or clergy member
- Relaxation methods like visualization, meditation, or breathing exercises
- Regular exercise
- Regular doctor visits to take care of general health and wellness
- Taking breaks and time for yourself when necessary
- Eating a healthy diet
- Asking for help when necessary
- Maintaining social connections and not isolating oneself
Caregiving for someone with COPD is a wonderful thing to do, but it is not without its own stressors. Caregivers need to take time for themselves so they can better take care of others. If caregiving impacts your health or well-being, talk to someone right away. Everyone needs help sometimes, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.2,4